The pervasiveness of trauma and its impact on our local communities and the world has seldom been so visible. The outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed cracks in how vulnerable and fragile our global community can become. Our thoughts are taken up with concern for loved ones, uncertainty about work and our personal health, and anxiety about what tomorrow will bring. We are under a new type of stress that we’ve never experienced before. Now more than ever, a trauma-informed approach can offer a healing way forward for ourselves and those around us.
How can we practice trauma-informed care when we’re all vulnerable and under stress?
At the heart of a trauma-informed approach is seeking out the conditions that help people heal. Whether we are medical personnel or office workers confined to our homes, we’re under constant stress. The impacts of this stress can overwhelm us and show up in our everyday lives in a variety of ways. I have felt this physically in my chest after reading news stories and seeing a harmless conversation suddenly become heated for no apparent reason. Under these conditions, our ability to do our job, care for our family, or simply think clearly is diminished.
Essential to a trauma-informed approach is fostering healing practices for our own wellness. Here are four ways you can practice trauma-informed healing:
Shift Judgement to Curiosity
We need to reframe how we respond to other people as we process the unusual interactions that are happening because of COVID-19. Whether it registers or not, our emotions are impacted each time someone avoids us on the street or wipes down a handle after we’ve touched it. We understand what’s going on, but so often our emotions are slow to join the party.
These interactions can contribute to feelings of being unwanted, unclean, and rejected. Judgemental responses often rise to the surface, and we must make an intentional effort to calm our defensive voice. I know I have taken comments personally when they’re not intended that way or responded sharply to a colleague or family member, and I lament this.
The questions that guide our thinking are important to how we respond. Instead of the knee-jerk reaction of, “What’s wrong with you?!” we should curiously wonder, “What’s happening to make this behaviour make sense?” When we do this, we quickly realize that someone who avoids us on the street or opens our door with their shirt sleeve can be seen as an expression of care for our health and safety. If we recognize the behaviours for what they truly are, we can also experience solidarity as we’re all doing the same thing!
Now more than ever, a trauma-informed approach can offer a healing way forward for ourselves and those around us.
Pause to Breathe
Shifting the questions we use to make sense of the world is a process that requires time and effort. Essential to this is taking moments to pause and collect our thoughts. Focused breathing is a good way to improve our wellness and how we respond to others.
Before pressing send on a curt email or jumping into your next task, be mindful of feelings of anxiety. Notice any tightness in your chest and take the time to loosen up your body by inhaling deeply and releasing your breath. Pause and extend these breaths, repeating the process until you are calmer. Remember that you’re alive! Inhale, exhale, pause, and simply enjoy the rush of air filling your lungs.
Create a Safe Space
We all need breaks from the world to experience comfort, safety, and rejuvenation. With limits placed on our movements this may require greater creativity. For many of us who are self-isolating, this may mean reorganizing a place in our residence to make it soothing and warm.
Our safe space can be elaborate or simply under a blanket, listening to music, or even changing the aroma or lighting of a room. Alternately, this place can be an “activity” that brings a state of calm. For me, I experience this while moving and feeling the sun on my face, so my safe space is often going for a walk or run outside.
Safe spaces give us important breaks from the constant messages of stress in our lives. Creating a space free from the pandemic news cycle and our smartphones is an important part of a meaningful self-care plan.
Seek Out Connection
We are hardwired to be social, which is why healthy connection and attachment are the foundation of trauma healing. Lack of connection impacts our development and even our immune system.
During this time of social distancing, we need to be intentional, actively seeking out new forms of being present with friends, family, and coworkers. This will likely require scheduling check-ins through phone and video calls with your work team and friend group. Because my daily movements have changed so much, I have noticed that there are important people in my life that I don’t cross paths with anymore. A simple text to ask how they are doing has opened up new connections and sharing.
While trauma-informed healing will be a challenge during this pandemic, it will all pass if we act collectively. There is some small solace in knowing we are all in this together. Seldom has our world been engaged in such solidarity!
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